Touraine - from then until now!

This blog is an attempt to show some of the vast history of Man's prescence in the Southern Touraine.... from first footfall to the present....
especially in and around le Grand Pressigny area.... with special emphasis on life at and around le Moulin de la Forge.
There will also be occasional entries about time before man was here and when the area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea...

Monday 6 March 2017

The circle of fire - part 1: closing the circle

My interest in the French transatlantic liner La Touraine started with a small piece of newsprint that we found hidden in the masonry of our chimney. That paper proved to date from 4th April 1915, and was torn from the pages of Le Petit Journal. One of the articles on that paper concerned a fire aboard La Touraine which broke out in mid Atlantic on 6th March 1915. That article led me to the extraordinary man who was accused of setting the fire, his even more extraordinary wife, then back in time to the Universal Exhibition before la Touraine was launched,, and forward again to the disasters of the Titanic and the Volturno.

We have now come round in a circle, back to the fire again. This series of posts is intended to close the circle.

Somewhere around there, anyway. Thank goodness for the Wireless Telegraph. From New York Times
Suspicion for the fire initially fell upon passenger Raymond Swoboda. As soon as he was named, the world's press went baying after him and anybody who may have known him slightly, or even not at all, had an opinion to be snapped up and printed. Eventually it was decided that Swoboda had nothing to do with the fire, and he was released. So, let us examine the story of the fire again, this time leaving Swoboda out of the frame.  The results of so doing are most interesting.

This post follows a series of articles in, appropriately, Le Petit Journal, which simply describe the incident as it unfolded. The reports are credited to "our Le Havre correspondent", who alas must remain anonymous. The first was published on 8th March 1915, and the last,  which is part of a much longer article, on 1st April 1915.  The source of these articles is Gallica, the information base of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Le Petit Journal, 8th March 1915

The Touraine fire - nobody hurt

The liner is expected in Le Havre

The reassuring news issued since the night of Saturday to Sunday via a dispatch from New York on the fate of the passengers and crew of La Touraine, the liner which caught fire at sea, was happily confirmed yesterday morning. The Company issued this press release :

La Compagnie Générale Transatlantique received this morning by wireless telegraph a telegram from the commander of La Touraine, saying that the fire, reported yesterday, was not very serious, and that his ship was under way, under her own power, escorted by the steamer Amsterdam, towards Le Havre, where he expected to be able to arrive tomorrow (Monday).

At last the general agent of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique at Le Havre received, by wireless telegraphy, the following dispatch from Commander Caussin, of La Touraine :
« Sunday, 7 March, 3:45.
«La Touraine having a fire in one hold has asked for aid and is making her way towards Le Havre, under escort by the liner Rotterdam. I hope to master the fire. There is no immediate danger. Fine weather with mist. 

« I expect to arrive on Monday evening, if all goes well. Signed : CAUSSIN ". — (Havas).

They are full of confidence, in Le Havre, at the Company offices on the Boulevard de Strasbourg, about the fate of the passengers and crew of la Touraine. Our local correspondent has seen an individual there who told him that "the fire damage was limited to personal property".

Le Petit Journal, 9 March 1915

La Touraine returned to Le Havre yesterday evening safe and sound

The Captain 's report

Crew and passengers demonstrate superb sang-froid

The Marine Minister announced yesterday morning that one of the two French cruisers which was escorting la Touraine had signalled, on Sunday at 22:00 hours, that the fire was almost out and that the liner was under way at 14 knots towards her destination.

As confirmation of this good news, we have received this evening from our correspondent in Le Havre the following dispatch :
Le Havre, 8 March.
La Touraine arrived this afternoon in the roadstead and entered the docks of the Compagnie Internationale at 4pm. Nothing in her majestic appearance seemed to indicated that the ship had suffered any damage in the course of her voyage. After the usual formalities, Commander Caussin issued us this communication :

It was last Saturday, 6th March, at latitude 48°14" north, longitude 21°06" west, at 2 o'clock in the morning, while kept at my post by a heavy mist, that I was made aware that a fire had broken out in the housing of one of the ventilators of the forward boiler rooms. Voluminous smoke was invading the bridge. 

While the stokers were working at putting out the fire, I hove the ship to, in order to be able to leave the bridge and go to the seat of the blaze. Fire was reported in the post office and it was beginning to take hold in neighbouring facilities. 

It was 2:45 in the morning when I sent out a call for help. Several vessels soon responded to my request. These were the Swanmore, 80 miles away, the Cornishman, 85 miles away, the Keemen, the Rotterdam, 73 miles away, and the Anglo-Australian. All these ships set course towards our position. At 8:30, we were joined by the Rotterdam

She agreed to proceed in convoy with us towards Falmouth. I thanked the other vessels. As for the fire, it was difficult to assess its magnitude, but towards 2 in the morning the blaze appeared to have been extinguished.

At last, it was possible from yesterday (Sunday) to consider ourselves to have mastered the fire. At 11:30 in the morning, the situation further continuing to improve, I notified the Rotterdam that I could continue on my course without her and we separated. We were met at 2 o'clock by two French cruisers which soon returned to their own course.

The commander then declared that there was no substance in the holds susceptible to spontaneous combustion. Then he paid tribute to the sang-froid of the officers and men of his ship. As for the passengers, they had stayed absolutely calm. There was not the least panic. This detail was confirmed by passengers that we interviewed on their disembarkation. Some even affirmed that they had stayed calmly in their cabins.

Admiral Charlier has just decided to set up a commission which would be charged with inspecting the  merchandise which will be brought out of the hold to try to determine the causes of the fire aboard la Touraine. One has the conviction that the accident is not due to an act of malice. A large crowd thronged the quay for the arrival of the ship which bears no external sign of the accident.

Le Petit Journal, 1 April 1915 (extract)

The arrest of the arsonist of the steamship la "Touraine"

The circumstances in which a fire broke out on 6th March last aboard the French steamer la Touraine, in mid-ocean, while she was on her way to Le Havre from New York, had seemed so strange that one is not surprised to learn both that the blaze was caused by a criminal hand and that the presumed arsonist had been arrested.

It is remembered that la Touraine, with 84 passengers aboard, had asked for help by wireless telegraphy and that four vessels had replied to her appeal. One of them, the Rotterdam, stayed nearby the Touraine and convoyed her as far as le Havre, which the French steamship was able to reach under her own steam.

Since this bizarre fire became public knowledge, its cause has been the subject of speculation, and, suspecting malicious intent, the Le Havre police department decided to open an enquiry.

Admiral Charlier, the maritime prefect of Le Havre, took control of this investigation and lost no time in discovering that the explosion which caused the fire took place in hold no. 2 where the first class passengers' baggage was stowed. Therefore, either the explosive was in this baggage, or it had been placed there by one of the travellers.

A fatal decision

... because the holds were locked down during the voyage...

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